Abigail McArdle, 18, of Barrington Hills will be watching the first equestrian events in the Olympics on Friday from an insider's perspective.
The teen competes in the international show jumping circuit, and her coach, Katie Monahan-Prudent, is in London with one of McArdle's barn mates, Reed Kessler, the youngest equestrian ever to compete on an U.S. Olympic team.
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As it is, McArdle recently won a gold medal at the North American Junior and Young Rider Show Jumping Championships in Lexington, Ky. Her title came one week after securing six wins at the Spruce Meadows Tournament, just outside Calgary, Canada. Equestrian insiders are noticing.
"I have high hopes to be in the Olympics some day," McCardle says, "but I need to get a lot more experience before I can think about that."
She knows she has the right trainer in Monahan-Prudent, but just as importantly, she has the right horse.
"From the moment I got her, I knew she was something special," McCardle says. "In this sport, you work at developing a relationship with your horse, so that you can bring out the best in them."
McArdle and her mount, Cosma 20, completed five clear rounds, in three days, to win the gold medal.
"It's all about getting the fastest time, and going clean," McArdle says.
The courses vary, with tight turns, water elements and jumping obstacles, that can come in varying spreads and include double and triple combinations.
As she looks forward, to entering more competitions at the next level, including Grand Prix and professional events, McArdle knows that the course designs will get tougher.
She describes the open water as one of the most difficult elements to cross during a round. The horse has to clear all of it, which is hard, she adds, and since horses don't like water, they can refuse to do it.
That's where the relationship between rider and horse comes in, McArdle says, and their daily training sessions.
"Every day, we work on things to better her ride-ability," McArdle says, "so we're prepared for whatever they present to us in the ring."
In the end, McArdle makes it look easy, with her clean, smooth ride around the course, where judges are looking at her jumping form, consistent pace and smooth jumping style.
Both McArdle and her mother, Joyce, describe her riding as a "lifestyle sport" which has consumed her life.
"Both girls just love it," Joyce McArdle says of Abby and her older sister, Amelia, who also competes. "But they work at it too. If they're not riding, they're taking care of their horses, doing all of their own horse care and management."
Competing at the international Grand Prix level in show jumping, means that McCardle travels around the world, and lives in Florida from January through April for the 12-week show jumping season.
She is finishing up her last high school courses -- AP calculus and AP English composition -- online and with the help of a tutor, before applying for college this fall.
But watching the Olympics comes first, and that means rooting for her friend Reed and the rest of the American equestrian team.
"I just want more people to know about our sport," McArdle says, "and just how much goes into it."